Is the press release dead? Earlier this month, Esther Schindler wrote in her You’re the Boss blog that “PR is broken. Social media might, might glue some of the parts back on.” To test this supposition, I spoke to David Meerman Scott, who is the author of the bestselling book The New Rules of Marketing & PR (and also a fellow Contributing Editor at EContent Magazine). Scott, who speaks frequently on the subject, thinks Web 2.0 has changed the way everyone should think of marketing and that marketers who fail to grasp that are doomed to be left in the dust of 20th century ideas. That said, it’s important to understand that you can’t simply use the same rules and glue them on to Web 2.0 concepts. As Scott points out, your audience is now much bigger than a handful of journalists and editors.
RM: For a long time, PR involved writing a press release and finding the most efficient way to distribute it. Do you think this type of press release is dead?
DMS: The rules for press releases have changed. In the old days, a press release was actually a release to the press. Everybody knew that the reason you issued a press release was to get the media to write about you. Nobody saw the actual press release except a handful of reporters and editors.
While all PR people understand that press releases sent over the wires appear in near real-time on services like Google News, very few understand the implications for how they should dramatically alter their press release strategy as a result. The primary audience is not a handful of journalists. Your audience is millions of people with an Internet connection and access to a search engine and RSS readers. Press releases are also great search engine fodder.
RM: In your book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, you call advertising ‘the money pit of wasted resources.’ What role does advertising have in marketing today?
DMS: In an offline world, advertising may be an important component of marketing. Things like yellow page listings, billboards by the side of the road, plus magazine, newspaper and radio might be appropriate for some companies.
But in an online world success is not about advertising. It is about publishing great content that people want to consume. Why put a banner ad up when you can create a video, blog entry, interactive tool, or e-book. Effective marketing on the Web is about creating a great YouTube video or Facebook group or application. It is not advertising on YouTube and Facebook.
RM: Can you define the term ‘viral marketing’ and describe what this term means to you in the context of your book?
DMS: One of the coolest things about the Web is that when an idea takes off, it can propel a brand or company to seemingly instant fame and fortune. For free. Having other people tell your story drives action. One person sends it to another, then that person sends it to yet another, and on and on.
The formula for success includes a combination of some great—and free—Web content that provides valuable information (or is groundbreaking or amazing or hilarious or involves a celebrity), plus a network of people to light the fire and links that make your content very easy to share.
RM: What role can social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter play in marketing and PR?
DMS: Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are ideal for marketers, but only if they understand that this is NOT a tool for advertising your products and services.
The most important thing to remember about marketing on Facebook is that it is not about generating hype. The best approaches to Facebook marketing involve three useful ways to deliver information and ideas to a network of people who are interested in you and your products and services: friend-to-friend communication, groups, and applications. The first is generally the easiest and really just requires that you describe yourself via your personal profile. For example, when I publish a new e-book or my next hardcover book, I’ll post a message on my Facebook profile so my friends will know what I’m up to. Similarly, back when I set up my profile, I included a short video to give my Facebook friends an idea of what one of my speeches is like. My Facebook friends see my Facebook updates via their Facebook “feed,” basically an ongoing delivery of information from their circle of friends.
People use Twitter to keep their “followers” (people who subscribe to their Twitter feed) updated on their life. For instance, you might tweet about who you’re having lunch with or the project you’re engrossed in, or you might ask your network a question. Users can choose to follow the Twitter updates of anyone they want to hear from: family members, colleagues, or perhaps the author of the last book they read. So to use Twitter as marketing, you just keep people updated with interesting information. You never try to sell something.
RM: At first email represented an efficient delivery method for press releases, but over time many journalists and editors perceived of unsolicited press releases as Spam. How do you prevent a similar backlash with viral marketing techniques?
DMS: Viral marketing has a significant dark side. Much of viral marketing is nothing more than traditional advertising techniques that rely on interruption, bait-and-switch gimmicks, inane games, and frivolous contests. It's the old rules of marketing transferred to the Web. These unscrupulous techniques involve trickery and coercion in an attempt to sell products. Frankly, this stuff gives all of viral marketing a bad name.
There’s a cadre of viral marketing "experts" who happily take large amounts of money from naive and unsuspecting companies to create viral marketing "campaigns". Typically, advertising agency-developed viral campaigns involve buying access in the same old ways, such as purchasing an email list to spam people or launching a microsite with a pricey print or TV ad.
Worse, some dodgy agencies set up fake viral campaigns where people who are employed or in some way compensated by the agency create videos or blog posts purported to be from a customer.
In fact, misleading viral marketing techniques have become so widespread that the European Union enacted Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations to protect the public from the most deceitful activities.
RM: In your April After Thought column in EContent Magazine, you wrote an open letter to Warner Music Group criticizing them for ordering YouTube to remove fan cell-phone videos from the Dec, 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion concert. In your view, why would Warner have been better off leaving the videos up there?
DMS: If I were a music executive (or musician), I’d make much of my music available for free online and I’d encourage people to share it. I would have the confidence that providing music for free would drive sales of my other products. Many unsigned bands are prospering with this strategy through their own MySpace pages or Web sites and in many cases experiencing tremendous success.
This idea is not new. Starting in the 1960s, the Grateful Dead encouraged concertgoers to record their live shows by establishing "taper sections" where fans’ equipment could be set up for the best sound quality. The band encouraged Deadheads to trade tapes and make copies for friends. The cult of a Grateful Dead concert became a pre-Internet World Wide Rave driving millions to the band’s live shows over thirty years of touring and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
The availability of YouTube clips enhances sales, and bands and their labels shouldn’t worry about low-quality fan tributes. The music industry needs to rethink knee-jerk legal impulses to clamp down on fans with Draconian measures and consider the power that the web has to sell music.
RM: If you could look into your crystal ball, what are the next frontiers for marketing and PR?
DMS: We’re already in the future. The Web provides the most empowering form of marketing that has ever existed. Imagine – anyone can create a blog or a YouTube video or a Facebook application that can make them famous. For free.
The problem as I see it is the vast majority of organizations are living in the past. They are living in a world where they had to buy expensive advertising or beg the media to write about them.
The future is here. No crystal ball required. But you need to do things differently. There are new rules.